Whether you’ve just found a new dog or have been noticing changes in your dog’s health, one of the first things you should do is get the lymph nodes checked. Your dog’s lymph nodes are a part of his immune system and help fight infections. If they are enlarged, your veterinarian can tell you what’s causing them and suggest a treatment plan.
Swollen lymph nodes are often caused by a bacterial or fungal infection. They can also be a result of an autoimmune condition. If you think your dog might have one of these conditions, call your veterinarian immediately.
The lymph nodes are situated near the lymphatic vessels, which carry lymphocytes around the body. Some lymph nodes are located inside the abdominal cavity and in the armpits. There are also pre-scapular lymph nodes and superficial cervical lymph nodes. Lymph nodes are located in the neck, chest, and shoulder areas. They help filter the blood and remove cellular debris. If the lymph nodes become enlarged, they can also become painful. If your dog has enlarged lymph nodes, a veterinarian will perform a fine needle aspirate test on the swollen area. The veterinarian will then collect cells from the enlarged node and view them under a microscope. If the cells appear abnormal, your veterinarian will determine the cause of the enlarged lymph node and may prescribe antibiotics or antifungals to treat the infection.
Some dogs may also have swollen lymph nodes because of a malignancy. Cancers can occur in many different areas of the body, and enlarged lymph nodes are one of the first signs of cancer in a dog. The prognosis for cancer is poor, but lymphoma is generally responsive to treatment. Cancer in dogs can occur in the mouth, neck, liver, lungs, or kidneys. Depending on the type of lymphoma your dog has, your veterinarian may prescribe chemotherapy. Chemotherapy is administered through a vein, and it kills cancer cells. The side effects of chemotherapy may include hair loss, diarrhea, and loss of appetite. Your dog may also lose weight, and he may have difficulty breathing.
Another common cause of enlarged lymph nodes in dogs is a fungal infection. A fungal infection is not caused by cancer, and it is accompanied by a different set of symptoms. Often, dogs can have a fever or feel extremely thirsty.
If your dog has swollen lymph nodes, the vet will use a fine needle and syringe to collect cells from the enlarged node. The vet will examine the cells on a slide and may be able to see an infectious agent in the lymph node aspirate. Your vet may also send a sample to an external lab for analysis.
Lymph nodes in dogs are typically not painful, and most dogs have no problems with the nodes. However, they can become painful if they become infected. You can also check your dog’s lymph nodes during a wellness exam. When the nodes become swollen, they will feel like round, firm swellings under the skin.